Salmon River Canyon

Mt. Hood + Clackamas River Area, Oregon

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Salmon River Canyon


  • The Salmon River at the takeout below the gorge.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Jacob Cruser spots his landing on Split Falls.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Nate Merril in the tricky lead-in to Split Falls.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Not bad for the put-in rapid.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Split Falls is one of the easiest waterfalls on the run.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Jarred Jackman on Split Falls.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Vanishing Falls features two undercut pockets in the landing zone.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Jacob Cruser on the last of the ‘sane’ waterfalls.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Jarred Jackman looks back on the exit to Frustration Falls.- Salmon River Canyon
  • The team regroups at the lip of 80-foot Final Falls.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Jacob Cruser takes the leap of faith.- Salmon River Canyon
  • The anchor at the lip of Final Falls makes for a spectacular rappel.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Nate Merril begins the descent.- Salmon River Canyon
  • When hanging from a rope next to a waterfall, it’s best to enjoy the moment.- Salmon River Canyon
  • Unique views of Mount Hood (11,250') are visible throughout the shuttle drive.- Salmon River Canyon
Overview + Weather
Pristine, hidden waterfalls. Technically challenging river.
Long access hike. Mandatory portage. 80-foot drop/cliff jump/rappel.
Mt. Hood + Clackamas River Area, OR
Route Characteristics: Character:
Pool Drop, Gorge, Steep Creek, Wooded (Forested), Waterfalls
Overall difficulty: 
Parking Pass: 
NW Forest Pass
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer
Put-in location (lat, long coordinates): 
45.228714, -121.875142
Suitable for:
Take-out location (lat, long coordinates): 
45.277677, -121.939605
Total Distance: 
5.80 mi (9.33 km)
Current Local Weather:

Notable Hazards + River Information

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Adventure Description

Adventure Description


The Salmon River Canyon is a substantial undertaking by any measure. Often referred to as “The Mount Everest of Oregon Whitewater,” the canyon boasts some of the most aesthetically pleasing navigable waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest. And that's the fun part of the challenge. Getting there, however, means choosing between a brutal uphill hike with kayaks in tow or a one way shuttle that takes more than two hours to set. At least one mandatory portage, multiple technically challenging waterfalls, and a drop/cliff jump/rappel that exceeds 80 feet round out the logistical hurdles for navigating this river. If easy access and miles of classic whitewater are what you’re after, this is not the run for you.

Getting to the Put-In

Depending on your preference, there are two common approaches to reaching the put-in. Both require a hike, and either way you’ll want to start out at the bottom. Drop a car at the bridge on E Welches Road outside of Welches and choose one of the following:

Hike: Follow the Salmon River, West Canyon Trail (#742) southeast on the northeast side of the river for roughly 5.8 miles. This hike is not easy and features plenty of elevation gain. Get an early start, or plan to camp near the put-in.

Drive: Pile into a second car and be prepared to navigate some logging roads. Return to Highway 26 and head east. Turn right on Oregon Skyline Road and refer to the driving directions. Bring a map and refer to it frequently. Follow the trail north along the river. There will be at least one significant stream crossing.

Either option will direct you to a small meadow that overlooks the Salmon River Canyon on the west side of the trail. From here a vague footpath begins a steep descent to the put-in at Split Falls. Putting-in further upstream will only force you to contend with the logistical challenges of portaging the cliff-lined, 120-foot Stein Falls.

The River

While the Salmon River Canyon is known for its waterfalls, the majority of the river is Class II. The first waterfall, Split Falls, is as easy as they come, so if it looks like more than you can handle, you’ll be better off hiking back to the car.

Immediately after Split Falls, portage around a nasty crack and log jam combination on the right. Seal launching just below the log jam is a good option, but be careful not to piton the far wall. A mile or more of Class II to III water leads to Little Niagara.

Little Niagara is a fall that drops approximately 12 feet before it lands on a rock shelf that extends from river right to all but the extreme river left side. Do not underestimate the quick lead-in, and get as far left as you can.

Vanishing Falls follows quickly afterward, so catch an eddy on the right to scout and/or portage. Vanishing Falls is an intimidating 25-foot waterfall commonly run in one of two ways: either bang down the river right crack toward the undercut wall on the left or boof the shallow flake in the center. Both sides of the landing zone have dangerous pockets with a large boil in the center pushing toward either. If you choose to portage, seal launch or throw and go just below the falls, and be prepared to catch the next possible eddy.

Vanishing Falls plunges into the Vanishing Gorge, a short constriction with the only mandatory drop on the river. Although it's only 12-feet tall, this unnamed ledge has a fearsome hole with little or no opportunity for rescue should you miss your boof. Do not take this drop lightly. From here, the river mellows for a bit, so take time to enjoy the scenery in a place only accessible via the river.

Frustration Falls, the next drop, is the centerpiece of the Salmon River Canyon experience. Frustration weaves a web of falling water that seems to cascade from all directions in a spectacular array of tiers. Scout and portage on the right. Paddlers will quickly see the only manageable line that begins on the left and quickly cuts to the right over the second two waterfalls. The first, at approximately 20 feet, currently has a log that is deceptively difficult to avoid. The second drop is closer to 15 feet, but it requires a precise boof to land in the boiling cauldron (with undercut walls) with control. The third tier is the largest, dropping nearly 40 feet on a near vertical slide. The only exit from the pool below is through the curtain of another portion of the falls; here you'll see large undercut hazard that would be a significant danger to anyone out of their boat.

Contrary to legend, Frustration Falls is possible, though difficult, to portage. You can do so on the slippery and steep bench that overlooks the falls. It is also possible to run the first and third drops without running the second tier.

After the portage/battle through the curtain, paddlers will face one more relatively straightforward 20-foot waterfall (scout on either side, run right of center) before the grand finale, Final Falls.

While it has been run before, clean lines are few and far between on this over 80-foot behemoth. More frequently, paddlers send their empty boats over the falls and choose between a rappel anchored on a somewhat questionable tree or a cliff jump below the falls. People have reported hitting rocks after jumping, but those that have jumped into the foam pile at the base of the falls (as opposed to from the rappel station) consistently report a clear landing zone. The obvious tradeoff for the relative safety of the rappel is that a heavy climbing rope must be brought on the hike and down the river.

The final mile or so of the Salmon River Canyon consists of a Class IV boulder jumble with plenty of pin spots and sieves. Take care through this final section and scout or portage as needed. When you reach the car, congratulate yourself for completing Expedition Kayaking 101 after having explored an area only accessible by kayak!

Updates, Tips + Comments

Updates, Tips + Comments

Field Guide + River Map

Field Guide + River Map

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Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(63 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(165 within a 30 mile radius)

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